As the Huskers head into their first bye week of the season, HuskersIllustrated.com has decided to recap the some of the highlights of the first three games, as well as hand out our awards for the top performers and performances thus far.
Offensive MVP: Joe Ganz
No player has meant more to Nebraska's offense thus far than senior quarterback Joe Ganz. Just as he ended last season, Ganz has been the spark plug behind the Huskers' offensive success through the opening three weeks. So far, Ganz is 50-of-78 passing for 719 yards and five touchdowns. He's the team's third-leading rusher with more than 100 yards and a touchdown, and he also caught a touchdown pass last week against New Mexico State.
Defensive MVP: Ndamukong Suh
It seems as if junior defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is finally living up to his potential, as he has been a force on the interior defensive line all season. Along with 13 tackles, Suh is tied for the team lead in sacks (2), interceptions (1) and forced fumbles (1). His biggest highlight undoubtedly came against San Jose State, when he snatched a batted pass out of the air and rumbled 49 yards for a touchdown. If he keeps up at this rate, the NFL could be calling his name in the very near future.
Special teams MVP: Niles Paul
For the first time since DeJuan Groce, it appears the Huskers finally have a legitimate playmaker in the return game in sophomore Niles Paul. Paul is averaging 31.5 yards per punt return and 13.2 yards on kickoff returns this season, leading the team by a long shot in both categories. His biggest moment came against San Jose State, when he took a kickoff 85 yards for a touchdown that put NU up two scores in the fourth quarter. Though he's been splitting time with senior Nate Swift on punt returns, there's no question who the Huskers' difference maker is in the return game.
Biggest surprise: Eric Hagg
Facing three straight pass heavy offenses, the Huskers needed someone to step up in the secondary as a capable fifth defensive back. Sophomore Eric Hagg has done that and then some, leading the team with four pass breakups and ranking second with 17 tackles. Hagg's emergence certainly helps ease some of the fears concerning how the secondary would match up with the explosive Big 12 offenses, as his combination of size and speed give the Huskers a weapon many never knew they had.
Best offensive play: Marlon Lucky's touchdown pass to Ganz
There were a few good ones to choose from, but none had quite the razzle-dazzle of this Shawn Watson creation. With 12:52 left in the second quarter last week against New Mexico State, running back Marlon Lucky took a toss from Ganz to the right side on the first play of the drive following an interception by Armando Murillo. Just when it looked like he was going to take the ball up field, Lucky pulled up and delivered a near perfect pass across the field to Ganz, who was running wide open down the left sideline. Ganz made a nice over-the-shoulder catch, and the Huskers jumped out to a 14-0 lead and never looked back.
Best defensive play: Suh's pick six
When you think about it, is there really anything better in football than watching a 300-pound defensive tackle rumble and stumble 49 yards for a touchdown? Suh did just that in NU's win over San Jose State, as he hauled in a tipped pass by Spartan quarterback Kyle Reed in the first quarter and ran it in for a score to put Nebraska up 14-6. As it turned out, that touchdown proved to be fairly crucial, as the Huskers were unable to score again until the fourth quarter, and at one point led by as little as 14-12.
Best special teams play: Paul's kickoff return
In retrospect, this play may have saved Nebraska's season from turning into a complete disaster. Prior to Paul's return, San Jose State had just driven 42 yards and kicked a field goal that cut NU's lead to 14-12 with a little more than 12 minutes to go in the game. Had Paul not answered with his touchdown return down the left sideline, it would have been up to the Huskers' offense to make the big play. At that point, the offense hadn't mustered a scoring drive since its opening possession. Had Nebraska ended up losing that game - which prior to Paul's touchdown amazingly seemed possible - you can only imagine what the backlash from Husker Nation would've been like.
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